Jonny Kim is an emergency medicine doctor, a former Navy SEAL and Iraq War veteran and now an astronaut. Kim is just 35 years old. Born in California and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, he is part of a group of 11 people to become official astronauts with NASA. Kim could be assigned to go to the International Space Station, the Moon and perhaps even Mars.
Kim served as a Special Operations Combat Medic, sniper, navigator and point man on more than 100 combat operations spanning two deployments to the Middle East including Ramadi and Sadr City, Iraq, according to his NASA bio. He was a resident physician in emergency medicine with Partners Healthcare at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is still on active duty with the Navy.
“These individuals represent the best of America, and what an incredible time for them to join our astronaut corps,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “2020 will mark the return of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and will be an important year of progress for our Artemis program and missions to the Moon and beyond.”
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Jonny Kim Grew Up in California and Joined the Navy After Graduating High School in San Diego
Jonny Kim was born and raised in California. He graduated from Santa Monica High School in 2002 and joined the U.S. Navy. He became a Navy SEAL and served two tours in the Middle East, including in Ramadi and Sadr City in Iraq.
Kim told The Harvard Gazette in 2017 that he almost dropped out of the SEAL program during “Hell Week.”
“They let us sleep for a couple of hours in nice sleeping bags, one of only two naps you get in five days of training,” Kim said. “And when you’re snuggled up in this warm sleeping bag and they wake you up and immediately make you go in the frigid ocean, it was the closest I ever came to quitting. I had that taste of comfort, and then it was taken away from you. The cold was magnified because your body’s so broken. When you’re exercising, you can push through the pain. When you’re cold, you’re just by yourself.”
He was awarded the Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat “V” and the Combat Action Ribbon. He is still currently serving in the Navy.
“I don’t watch a lot of war films and documentaries anymore,” he said. “Losing a lot of good friends galvanized me and made a lot of my remaining teammates make sure we made our lives worthwhile. I still, to this day, every day, think of all the good people who didn’t get a chance to come home. I try to make up for the lives and positive [impact] they would have had if they were alive.”
2. Jonny Kim Graduated From Harvard Medical School in 2016 and Worked As an ER Doctor in Boston
Jonny Kim graduated from Harvard Medical School in 2016. According to his NASA bio, he he began his medical internship with Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency and was a resident physician in emergency medicine with Partners Healthcare at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Kim said he wanted to become a doctor when he was serving in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006 and two of his friends were shot and killed. Kim treated one of them in the field until he could get to a surgeon.
“He had a pretty grave wound to the face,” Kim told The Harvard Gazette. “It was one of the worst feelings of helplessness. There wasn’t much I could do, just make sure his bleeding wasn’t obstructing his airway, making sure he was positioned well. He needed a surgeon. He needed a physician and I did eventually get him to one, but … that feeling of helplessness was very profound for me.”
3. Jonny Kim Joined NASA in 2017 and Completed Two Years of Training As an Astronaut Candidate
Jonny Kim joined NASA in August 2017 having been selected to its two-year training program as an Astronaut Candidate.
“I’m going to be a student at the bottom of another totem pole trying to learn as much information as possible,” Kim told The Harvard Gazette at the time. “I’m excited for the adventure. I think it’ll be another occupation where I say, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting paid for doing this.’”
He was part of a group of 11 astronauts to graduate from the program during a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on Jan. 10. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas attended the ceremony. “For generations, the United States has been the world leader in space exploration, and Johnson Space Center will always be both the heart and home of human spaceflight activity,” Cornyn said. “I have no doubt the newly minted astronauts will add to that history and accomplish incredible things.”
“I congratulate these exceptional men and women on being the first graduating class of the Artemis program,” Cruz said. “They are the pioneers of the final frontier whose work will help fortify America’s leadership in space for generations to come. I am excited for the opportunities ahead of them, including landing the first woman ever on the surface of the Moon, and having the first boots to step on Mars.”
NASA now has 48 active astronauts in its ranks.
4. Jonny Kim Said His Fellow Servicemembers in the Military Inspired Him To Become an Astronaut
“I’ve had a lot of mentors and role models. Men and women who I’ve worked with in the military and in medicine who have shown me how to lead and how to be led,” Kim said. “And I’ve had a lot of good men and women who I’ve served alongside with who have died in service of their country and they have been spectacular role models for me on how to live a life of service and that’s something that I strive to do here at NASA, to be able to serve our space explorer’s program, our country and to serve our next generation.”
Kim told The Harvard Gazette in 2017:
“I didn’t like the person I was growing up to become. I needed to find myself and my identity. And for me, getting out of my comfort zone, getting away from the people I grew up with, and finding adventure, that was my odyssey, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
5. This Latest Class of New Astronauts Could Be Assigned to Go to the Moon, the International Space Station and Possibly Even Mars
“The new graduates may be assigned to missions destined for the International Space Station, the Moon, and ultimately, Mars. With a goal of sustainable lunar exploration later this decade, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the surface on the Moon by 2024. Additional lunar missions are planned once a year thereafter and human exploration of Mars is targeted for the mid-2030s,” NASA said in a press release.
“These individuals represent the best of America, and what an incredible time for them to join our astronaut corps,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “2020 will mark the return of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and will be an important year of progress for our Artemis program and missions to the Moon and beyond.”
When asked what he hopes to accomplish during a trip to the moon, Jonny Kim said: “I personally hope to achieve on the moon the lasting foundations for the next generation of astronauts to explore even further, to use the moon as a staging base to go to Mars and beyond. If I can be a part of that, I think that would be, I’d be pretty happy with that.”